I’m currently in the process of writing a paper on Scottish philosopher David Hume and his empiricism. As you can probably guess as a theist, I and “Le Bon David” don’t actually agree on much. Well, I actually take that back. His Problem of Induction is fascinating and the is/ought gap is very influential on my thinking in ethics. Even though I’m trying to refute his epistemology, I can’t help but admire the genius of this man. It would be incredible just to be able to see him debate Immanuel Kant. Don’t worry, fellow theists. Despite of my awe, I will still destroy him without remorse! Muah-hah-hah!
Needless to write, I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about him lately, and I think I’ve come to a little problem for Davey and his atheists (hey, that would make a pretty good four-piece alternative band title). This is inspired from his famed Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. One of his objections to the argument from design is a fallacy of composition — taking the parts of something and making a conclusion about the whole from them. Hume, rightfully I might point out, argues the argument from design is guilty of such an incorrect inference. That, looking at objects in nature, noticing their complexity seems to requires a designer, and then concluding the entire universe needs one too because it isn’t exactly very simple either. Hume goes on to write we don’t have experience (as an empiricist, Hume loves experience) on how universes are made, and therefore have no basis to make inferences about how ours is made.
If atheists are reading this, they’re all probably nodding their heads in agreement in between eating popcorn and polishing their busts of Hume, but here is where their grins might disappear.
If we follow Hume’s logic to its conclusion, doesn’t that mean we can infer nothing about the universe? I’m well aware Hume was an immense skeptic and didn’t believe we could gain knowledge of the physical world. This seems completely detrimental to the scientific method.
Lets apply this to the theory of evolution. According to it, natural selection is an unguided process, and therefore the universe is unguided or undesigned. How is this any different from his criticism of the teleological argument? It’s taking the parts and making a conclusion about the whole.
I see an inconsistency with many atheists who wield Hume’s empiricism as if it was some legendary sword. Sure, it damages the theism, but it also slashes at the science many atheists hold so dear. In fact, Hume’s reasoning is such a culprit in more than one instance. It astonishes me that they fail to recognize this reflexivity. They eagerly gobble up one application of his ideas like it’s Thanksgiving and refuse to acknowledge the stomach ache afterwards from over-eating.
Hume’s arguments overall don’t support theism or atheism. They undercut them both. There’s a reason Hume is a called a raging skeptic (well, maybe not a raging one until me, but whatever). This seems entirely obvious to me, almost too obvious. I wouldn’t say my reasoning is bulletproof, and I’m more than willing to someone pointing how this might be reconciled. I’m still learning and totally open to some possible solutions epistemologists have proposed. I just know Hume’s ideas are echoed in naturalism’s epistemology, and therefore naturalists inherit his problems even if they don’t admit or realize it.
Anyway, let me know what you think.